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COPD: DIAGNOSIS AND TREATMENT
COPD (Chronic Obstructory Pulmonary Disease) is a serious lung disease that can cause long-term disability and death. The condition is estimated to affect 24 million men and women in the United States, making it the nation’s third leading cause of death, but as many as half these cases remain undiagnosed. As the name suggests, COPD is an obstruction to airflow that interferes with normal breathing. At the end of a full exhalation, an abnormally high amount of air may still linger in the lungs. Breathing is especially difficult during increased activity or exertion because as the rate of breathing increases, there is less time to breathe all the air out before the next inhalation. At the onset of the disease, shortness of breath occurs only with exertion; however, if the underlying lung condition progresses, breathlessness may occur with minimal activity, or even at rest.
The most common diseases to fall under the COPD umbrella are emphysema and chronic bronchitis, but COPD also takes in asthma and cystic fibrosis. Symptoms include coughing that may produce large amounts of mucus, wheezing, shortness of breath and chest tightness.
The most common cause of COPD is smoking which causes emphysema and chronic bronchitis. Other causes include long-term exposure to air pollution, chemical fumes, or dust. Bronchiectasis, in which airways become damaged due to repeated bouts of pneumonia, also is a causative factor. Finally, COPD occasionally is caused by a rare genetic mutation called alpha-1-antitrypsin deficiency.
It is recommended that anyone who experiences shortness of breath and chronic cough undergo lung function studies, such as spirometry, which will determine whether an obstruction or reduced airways exist. They also should undergo screening for alpha-1-antitrypsin deficiency and a have a high-resolution CT scan.
There is no known cure for COPD, but symptoms can be managed and the disease progress slowed. There may be a reversal component, but generally symptoms are considered irreversible. The prognosis is worse for patients with emphysema, who generally experience a steady decline moving forward, while asthma patients may rebound.
Treatment typically includes a bronchodilator regimen of short- and long-acting beta agonists; anticholinergic drugs, such as Spiriva and Atrovent and oftentimes inhaled steroids with oral or I.V. steroids used for acute exacerbations. It is recommended that patients avoid lung irritants, get ongoing care and prepare for emergencies.
Research I have done and my practical experience with substances that may prevent or alleviate symptoms of COPD has shown the following nutrients may be useful: Arginine, due to its role in the production of nitric oxide; N-Acetyl-Cysteine to help break up thick mucus produced in the respiratory system; fish and fish oils, due to their high content of DHA and Super Omega 3-EPA and their anti-inflammatory properties, have shown some promise in prevention; resveratrol by inhibiting the increased production of interleukin 8 that occurs during COPD; Coenzyme Q10 may counteract low oxygen levels and increase the ability of COPD patients to perform exercise; germanium, which brings oxygen to every cell in the body; whey protein, which may alleviate symptoms primarily due to its cysteine content which contributes to additional glutathione production, a nutrient often shown at lower levels and activity in COPD; L-Carnitine which may improve exercise tolerance and muscle strength; magnesium, which may help prevent exacerbations because COPD patients often have low muscle levels of Magnesium; and DMG used immediately before exercise to help in oxygenation. I also recommend digestive enzymes such as Protease Plus and Food Enzymes used with meals to improve use of nutrients and used between meals to digest mucus in the body.
The following vitamins may be useful in prevention: Vitamin C – by inhibiting the increased production of interleukin 8 that occurs during COPD, Vitamin D, Vitamin E (due to its antioxidant properties protecting against some of the free radicals-induced damage in the lungs that leads to emphysema) and Vitamin A (COPD patients often have lower levels of Vitamin A than healthy persons).
Herbs that have proven useful for some clients are Lung Support (a combination used by Chinese healers to strengthen the lungs); Ginkgo Biloba which may inhibit the ability of tobacco smoking to cause COPD; Korean Ginseng for improvement of respiratory function; horseradish for its decongestant properties; elecampane which has been traditionally used to treat COPD, Mullein and Marshmallow & Fenugreek which may alleviate symptoms; and Lobelia and Blue vervain which are used to liquefy mucus in the body.
HOUSEHOLD HAZARDS FOR PEOPLE WITH COPD (AND THE REST OF US)
Dust, fumes, germs, and other irritants. Smoking poses an enormous threat to the lungs of people with chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) - and no wonder. Tobacco smoke contains more than 4,000 chemicals, including 43 that are known to cause cancer. Outdoor air pollution is another significant threat. Many homes harbor dust, fumes, germs, and other irritants that aggravate COPD symptoms like wheezing, coughing, shortness of breath, and chest tightness. The risks are especially high in the 20% of COPD sufferers who also have allergies. A Nature’s Sunshine Boomerang air purifier can help clear the air of particulates and kill particulates on home surfaces.